Sunday, June 26, 2011

AT THE PLAYGROUND


     A woman of wisdom once told me she is happiest when “everyone (in her family) is under the same roof.” That’s certainly true for those of us who have made it to grandparent-land, having survived both trial and tribulation in raising our young, accepting their departure for their own living, getting used to the quiet and slower pace of the empty nest and then welcoming the arrival of grandchildren.
The old saw, of course, is that grandchildren make grandparents happy in part because they eventually go home, that you can enjoy all over again the wonder of growing children, their imagination, their frank questions, their idiosyncrasies, but at the end of the day, there comes a time to depart. Most of us could not go through parenthood again but being grandparents is just right, keeping us in this special loop of humanity. It is its own blessing.
On a recent jaunt with Beatrice, one of my three granddaughters (plus a grandson) in Memorial Park along the Hudson River at Nyack, N.Y., I was reminded of my own two sons’ upbringing, now so deep in the past but yet as if it were yesterday.
Beatrice is inquisitive, bright, says “no” most of the time, wants to do everything by herself as two years olds are wont to demand. In my own time with my sons in this same park, then just steps from my crazy-hours newspaper job at the old Journal-News, I was probably thinking more about job/career stress and paying bills and therefore paying less attention to the boys at the park’s playground than I should have.
Beatrice had my attention, though, on the swings, on the animal figures, in the treehouse, wherever her short interest span took her. A retired “Gramps” is just naturally better at grandparenting than he was back in the saddle as a parent.
I was not alone then, of course. My wife Lillian was an excellent parent, making up for my own shortcomings, and is better today at grandparenting than this old coot. The offspring of the offspring will learn manners and all other good things from her, as did the sons. From me they shall receive wacky answers, fierce independence, self-reliance (I hope) and questioning of unquestioned authority.
My boys, too, heard the same line, and I am proud to say they are as pioneering and individual as an American ought to be, now or back in 1776. But they are fine parents, too, which their mom taught them to be, not me. I see that when their children come to the park to play with an oddball grandfather or when they all gather “under the same roof.” 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

STATE OF THE UNION


     Where are we in America, we sons and daughters of liberty, of immigrants, of factory workers and hardscrabble farmers?
       The news in my part of the patch isn’t full of hope: soaring local, state and national debt; borrowed money for just about everything; education and municipal budgets slashed, money from foreign nations for two increasingly fuzzy wars, to be repaid with heavy interest and God knows what by those not yet born. Roads and other infrastructure neglected while the human skeleton, sinew and mind no longer meet health care for a full tune-up.
     Yet we see more rich, enabled by greed, lobbies, bailouts that carry no price tag while the benefactors see no moral need to "pay forward" their rescue. If there is supposed to be re-investment in America from this largesse, most of us are still waiting. I wonder if the top 400 richest people, who according to the IRS pay just 17 percent of income in tax, even know how wealthy they are or how sorely their country needs their money, and so little of it overall. 
     We are now a country of union against non-union, private worker versus public, fighting over the leftovers, squeezed by the ever inflation of the supermarket, gas pump and taxes. With so many jobs lost, with scarce re-investment, there are fewer people left to pay the bills. This, in turn, increases unemployment and reduces spending, in a vicious cycle not even noticed by the rich. Only their handlers know how much they have in the bank, which they also own.
     Now, the rich alone have not caused our stagnation. Some politicians, even of eloquence, fail to serve. Common sense too often is bested by personal irresponsibility. The government must do much but cannot do it all, and what it does must be for need and investment, not special interest.
     Logic tells us that if the economy doubled in GNP since 1980, surely the middle class would be larger. Yet every day hundreds turn in their identity card, in a democracy long built on a vibrant, growing middle class and its aspirations, its solidity, its buying power. Where can democracy be headed without a large and strong middle class? It has been our greatest frontier, the frontier of hope. It is why we send our young on to further education, why we take pride in the doctor in the family.
    Where are we in America, we sons and daughters of liberty, of immigrants, of factory workers and hardscrabble farmers? It is 2011, and the worry lines are deepening in our faces.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

THE PEOPLE ARE NOT A REGISTERED LOBBY


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

     ANYWHERE BUT WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The ordinary American, an enduring species usually known to senators, congress people and presidents only when on the campaign trail, is suffering. Loss of jobs, homes and hope have brought nervous frustration not felt since the Great Depression.
Democrats talk of job incentives through deficit spending and higher taxes, Republicans of program cuts and lower taxes, but the rhetoric of each side is largely script-written by special interests that in both hidden and obvious ways deal the real mojo. Nothing happens in war and peace, in flush times and not without their say-so. Not in 2011.
Driven by profit goals and sometimes rightist or leftist aims, lobbies care nothing about people, their public relations, if any, to the contrary. Big money can buy big speeches and wonderful feel-good.
Special interests also "grow" government to suit their purposes. Our national, state and local jurisdictions are now so large, complex and bureaucratic that their cost may not measure their performance. Yet government is necessary, especially in today’s security worrisome age, in a time when unregulated greed threatens to destroy the middle class and its hopes, when economic, social, health care and especially old-style American inventiveness are life-and-death issues. The best government is the most simple, as described by A. Lincoln: “... of the people, for the people, by the people.”
If government were more transparent, if special interests were prohibited from giving money to any candidate simply by requiring all campaigns to be publicly funded, then perhaps government would become simpler, more connected to the people, with more principled “Mr. Smiths” articulating the citizenry’s needs and with government acting upon them. Office-holders might actually become beholden to the people beyond stump rhetoric.
Ah, but this is anywhere-but-Washington, D.C. thinking, and it has no special-interest stamp of approval. Too bad the citizenry is not a registered lobby.

Monday, June 6, 2011

FROM HERE TO THERE, 1944


     PIERMONT, N.Y. -- In the 67 years today since the allied landings at Normandy and other French beaches began in earnest the push to Germany,  suburbia has replaced what was the staging ground for the end of the Second World War in Europe. It was in Piermont that Army personnel and their massive equipment lined up to board Hudson River boats that would bring them to New York City and overseas carriers. And it was in nearby Orangeburg that 1.3 million Army personnel were processed through the largest East Coast port of embarkation. Indeed, the order of battle for D-Day began at Shanks as units were assembled in logistics and support.
On this day of remembrance, anyone with a smattering of that history who walks in this village, this “Last Stop USA,”  just less than 20 miles from Gotham, cannot fail to touch the spirits of the good people who marched by in 1943, ’44 and ’45. 
Some years back, in a Memorial Day speech I gave in Piermont, dedicating the life-sized, bronze statue of G.I. Joe that watches over the soldiers’ route, I tried to put stories to the men:
• The young man from Wisconsin who saw his mother’s face on a woman he did not know, sitting on her porch off Paradise Avenue as he passed. Soon enough he would be with the 36th Infantry Division at Cassino, and the images of the two women would become one, warming his soul in the cold of battle hell.
• The fellow from Camden, New Jersey, brought to Camp Shanks in the middle of the night on a troop train, who a few weeks later would ride on a transport driven to the Piermont Pier by one of the many women of the home war effort. Maybe he recalled her deft steering of the deuce and a half when he saw the Red Ball Express materiel delivery teams after the breakout at St. Lo and the race to the Rhine.
• The two brothers who last touched American soil at Piermont, one off to the U.S. II Corps at Kasserine Pass and the other with the 45th Infantry at Ragusa, Sicily. Only one son would make it back.
• The older man, still a private, who was not drafted but who joined and  became “Pop” with the 106th Infantry at the Battle of the Bulge. The calm hills over Piermont, one of his last sights of America, were in his mind in bitter cold, snowy woods of that awful blitzkrieg December.
• The fellows who shaped up at Shanks for the 32nd Field Artillery and the First Medical Battalion, units that saw a quiet U.S. sendoff and then the shouting, cataclysmic horror of D-Day and D-Day plus one.
• And all the men, almost all civilian soldiers, once machinists, salesmen, the unemployed, farmers, professional workers, sons and fathers, neighbors and strangers, immigrants and Native Americans and all whose forebears came to this nation, free or not.
They are the spirits who once moved as humanity through this Piermont, past this spot where the inanimate but full-of-life G.I. Joe statue gives constant nod to their service, their courage, their sacrifice, their protection of one another.
This scene of continual reverence plays not just in Piermont but every day of the year, in every year, in every small and big town in these United States. Not one community has been left untouched in the world wars, by the Korean and Vietnam wars, and now by Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wars are fought by the then living and endured for decades afterward by the survivors. The memorials we erect to those gone are in worthy and humble tribute and comfort the living, but it cannot end there. What Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg must be remembered, must be repeated:  “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Many good people, many ordinary ones made so extraordinary in calamity’s forging, marched in Piermont on the way to war. Not all returned, and those who did had to live the lives of their buddies, too, fulfilling the promises of a safe and secure democracy, so that, as Lincoln added, “... this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
You hear such voice still, here in Piermont, from the one-million-plus spirits who passed through to the European Theatre of War. They will never stop speaking, in this village and in all of this America.
We must listen.